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What A Cockroach Taught Me About Postpartum Depression

Cockroaches.

 The word is enough to get my anxiety pulsing; to set my heart racing; and to make me break out in a sweat. 

I would rather see a snake or a spider or a clown or a Demogorgon. Granted, I will still run and scream from other creepy crawlies, there’s something about a cockroach that gives me a unique kind of chill.

While I’ve seen my fair share of roaches (I did scouting growing up and living down South most of my life led to many an unpleasant meeting with the hellish critters), there was one particular encounter last year that even now brings bile to my throat.

My husband and I recently purchased our very first home: a cute little house on a cul-de-sac with several acres of wooded mountain behind plus a small little creek. It seemed like our little slice of heaven. But, the woods brings roaches. We had squashed more than I cared to count in the weeks after moving, so we paid to have the house perimeter sprayed. Our problem had seemed to end.

It was a little after 1 a.m., and I was 37 weeks pregnant with my son, our second child. I woke up feeling my hair fall into my face. I brushed it back, but at 37 weeks pregnant, once you wake up, it automatically means a trip to the bathroom. After I got back into bed and was trying to get comfortable enough to fall back asleep, I felt my hair fall into my face again. Once again, I brushed it back. Then a few seconds later, I felt it fall again. Instant panic. What if it wasn’t my hair falling into my face?! I immediately sat up and ripped my shirt off. I saw in the semi-darkness the unmistakable silhouette of a roach fly through the air and land on my pillow.

I completely lost it. Banshee screaming. Sobbing uncontrollably. Shaking. Clawing at my skin to get off something that was no longer there but could still be felt. My husband woke up and jumped out of bed to turn on the light. I barely heard him shout to ask me what was happening. I was so engulfed in panic that I couldn’t think of any words to use or even collect myself enough to point at it. Only yelling and tears. After a few moments of confusion, my husband saw the roach, realized what happened, and immediately disposed of it. I couldn’t stop screaming. I managed to come to my senses enough to get into the shower and calm down enough to stop screaming at the bed.

I couldn’t stop crying though. I stayed in the shower nearly an hour, rubbing my skin raw and sobbing until the water had become ice cold. All the while, my husband was repeatedly telling me to calm down and breathe, reminding me that the monster was gone. I think he was terrified I would panic our son right out then and there. (He stayed in for another two weeks!)

For days following, the memory of the roach kept returning over and over, multiplying the horror each time I thought about it. It seemed like a nightmare that wouldn’t end, and I couldn’t think of anything worse. If I only knew that a few weeks later, I would be battling an even more vile creature: Postpartum Depression.

Like with the roach, I had no idea what was really happening at the time. After my my daughter was born two years prior, I had not even suffered from the slightest baby blues. I only ever saw her as the precious gift she is. Thus, I assumed (a grave error) that I wouldn’t have any issues after my son was born.

So after bringing him home and having moments of intense sadness, overwhelming anger, and thoughts of utter desperation, I was caught a bit off guard.

But surely, I thought, adjusting to life with two kids, a tightening of finances, and a few unfortunately timed car troubles were really the root of my problems.

I just brushed them aside like I brushed aside what I thought was my hair. It’s no big deal, I said, just a bit of stress and extra hormones. I even went to my six-week checkup and said I was doing great physically, mentally, and emotionally. It was a lie, but I knew my feelings would soon subside, and they weren’t anything to worry anyone else about.

Not even a week later, any control I thought I had was gone. I was gripped in total despair.

I didn’t want to kill myself, but I did not want to exist. I wanted to drive to my parents’ house, drop my kids off, and run away. I would take long showers where I held myself so tightly that I left bruises as I tried to physically hold myself together.

My son hardly cried, but when he did, it sounded like death’s call. His cries were screams of my failure — how I wasn’t good enough, and how he, his sister, and my husband would be better off without me.

I tore at my ears to stop hearing it, at my eyes to stop looking at myself, at my legs to feel something different, and I still have a few scars from it all. These were hideous thoughts I eventually couldn’t escape for more than a few minutes before they came ripping their way back into my mind, forcing me to face them again and again until I was exhausted.

I was drowning, and I was slowly wanting to just give up fighting the waves.

And just like with the roach, I couldn’t find the words or the strength to tell my husband — or maybe even myself — what was going on. He had to turn on a (this time metaphorical) light, look a little closer, and realize that what I was going through wasn’t just common stress, but something so much more sinister.

And just like how he handled the roach, he held me in the shower as I cried uncontrollably.

He told me he was going to get me into counseling and that we needed to talk to my OBGYN. I started attending therapy and was put on an antidepressant. My husband changed his schedule to work fewer nights and be home with me more.

Dozens of little lifelines began pulling me back to my normal state of mind. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, but surely, I started to feel like myself, like I belonged in my own family, and like my son was the precious gift that he is.

It’s been a few months and whenever my hair falls on my face, I feel a moment’s panic. And even though I’ve remained in therapy and on medicine, I still get whispers of doubt and despair. But every day, it’s a little easier to swipe away the fears and remind myself that the monster is gone and I can rely on others to help me dispose of it if it returns.

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